Police thrillers these days aspire to replicate the CSI formula on the big screen. Not Pride and Glory. It wants to be this generation's Serpico.
Director Gavin O'Connor certainly understands the difference between the two. Though Glory lays out a complex yet solvable mystery, it's far more interested in loyalty and the familial bonds that exist among lifetime police officers. It also wears its adoration for the badge -- and those who wear it -- on its sleeve.
O'Connor co-wrote the film with Joe Carnahan, the screenwriter of the similarly gritty Narc and the bullet-ridden Smokin' Aces. These men possess such intimate knowledge of "The Job" that I'd be willing to bet either or both have police officers in their immediate family.
In the film, Edward Norton, who can be great but is capable of coasting on his inner fire, clamps down on the multi-faceted role of Ray Tierney. One brother in a family full of cops, Ray wallows in the NYPD's Missing Persons bureau, far removed from the investigative successes enjoyed by older sibling Francis (Noah Emmerich) and impulsive brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell).
O'Connor gradually clues us in to Ray's checkered past, which involves a headline-grabbing scandal that put him on the stand where he thought he'd have to testify against fellow officers. As you probably know, most cops would rather eat a bullet than rat out a brother in arms, so Ray does the right thing -- by NYPD standards -- and kills his career instead. When four cops from Francis' precinct are gunned down in a botched raid, however, Ray's father (Jon Voight) pulls his talented son back into the fold to investigate, even though clues start pointing back to Jimmy and other cops who are under Francis's watch.
Glory methodically lays out its details, revealing minor surprises instead of forcing major twists. This, I imagine, is how an actual murder case plays out, with theories and hunches trumping grandiloquent confessions from weeping perpetrators.
The textured story is stitched together with a thick emotional fabric that is weaved by the excellent cast. Norton takes the lead, delivering a raw and subtle performance that bares his character's conflicted soul. The actor's commitment trickles down through the ensemble, sweeping up Voight and Emmerich (both first-rate) and even elevating Farrell to a level rarely seen from the volatile actor. To his credit, Farrell's enjoying a good year. His turn in the black comedy In Bruges was equal parts sympathetic and psychotic. He's growing as an actor and making smarter choices in roles, which can only extend his career.
O'Connor, for his part, makes a number of intelligent decisions. He doesn't hurry his action, giving his absorbing characters room to breathe. He shoots a sullied version of New York that's organic and real, not the polished Hollywood version we too often get on screen. Credit cinematographer Declan Quinn for diving into slummy tenements and low-lit police precincts, as well as modest suburban homes which officers could afford on an NYPD salary. O'Connor makes one false step near the picture's end, and for that brief moment, Pride doesn't feel right. I'm more than willing to go along with him, however, for the greater good.
Because of its subject matter -- noble cops investigating crooked brethren -- O'Connor's Pride reminded me of The Departed, though in truth I preferred this to Martin Scorsese's Oscar-winner. Pride isn't flashy, tricky, or showy. It doesn't fall back on incessant double-crosses and last-second betrayals to confuse its audience. When a script is as good as Carnahan's and O'Connor's, it doesn't have to.
Something to be proud of.